Indonesia elections: Personality, religion and politics

More than 190 million Indonesian voters are heading to the polls for an election that will test the country’s democracy. The two presidential candidates have similar ideas, but very different leadership styles.

Indonesia presidential candidates Subianto (L) and Jokowi (R) (Reuters)
Indonesia presidential candidates Subianto (L) and Jokowi (R) (Reuters)

The 2019 Indonesian election is a massive undertaking, with presidential, parliamentary, regional and local elections all taking place at the same time in a country with 193 million eligible voters spread across three time zones; from Papua in the east, to the tip of Sumatra over 5,000 kilometers (3,000 miles) away in the west.

According to estimates by the Australia-based think tank Lowy Institute, these five simultaneous elections will combine more than 245,000 candidates, contesting a total of 20,000 seats in local, regional and national legislatures. This will involve nearly 6,000,000 election workers and 810,000 polling stations. Lowy dubbed it the “world’s most complicated election.”

Read more: Indonesia election puts Islam on the ballot

The all-important presidential vote is a remake of the 2014 contest, with incumbent Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, once again going up against former general Prabowo Subianto.

Jokowi won the 2014 election with 53% of the votes, and ran his campaign by promoting Indonesia’s social plurality, while promising to boost the economy and improve infrastructure.

This time around, Subianto hopes to edge off Jokowi by running on a platform of law and order, combined with conservative Islamic values. Subianto is selling himself as a strongman, and has said he wants to transform Indonesia into an “Asian tiger.”

Whether this strategy will work with Indonesian voters is uncertain. Current opinion polls currently show Jokowi with a comfortable lead. Outside of conservative circles, Subianto is seen by many voters as a firebrand. And as the son-in-law of Indonesia’s former dictator, Suharto, for some voters, he represents a return to Indonesia’s authoritarian past.

Jokowi is known for his moderate and measured communication style and has built a strong voter base backed up by infrastructure projects along with health and education programs that have benefited rural communities in this far-flung archipelago nation.

As his first term comes to an end, he has boosted Indonesia’s economy to 5% annual growth and increased the country’s GDP to over $1 trillion in 2017.

However, during his five years in office, many civil society and human rights organizations have criticized Jokowi for…

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